Dems ask Mnuchin to probe Russian investment in state election tech

Dems ask Mnuchin to probe Russian investment in state election tech
© Anna Moneymaker

Maryland Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Health Care: Democratic gains mark setback for Trump on Medicaid work requirements | Senate Dems give Warren 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder | Judge strikes Trump rule on health care 'conscience' rights Democrats give Warren's 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder Former NAACP president to run for Cummings's House seat MORE and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenHillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Democrats raise privacy concerns over Amazon home security system Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families MORE, both Democrats, asked Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTrump signs short-term spending bill to avert shutdown Trump awards Jon Voight, others National Medal of Arts Senate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown MORE on Tuesday to review a Russian oligarch’s investment in a company that runs part of the state’s election system.

In a letter, Cardin and Van Hollen asked Mnuchin to scrutinize venture fund AltPoint Capital’s investment in ByteGrid through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS). The panel, chaired by the Treasury secretary, reviews foreign acquisitions of U.S. businesses for national security risks.

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The senators’ letter comes as federal and state law enforcement officials prepare to fight attempts by foreign nations to influence or hack the upcoming midterm elections.

“Access to these systems could provide a foreign person with ties to a foreign government with information that could be used for intelligence or other purposes adverse to U.S. interests,” Cardin and Van Hollen wrote.

“We know that our elections are under threat from foreign cyberattacks and disinformation efforts. Our democratic process can also be manipulated through foreign investment in elections infrastructure.”

AltPoint Capital holds an ownership stake in ByteGrid, which hosts Maryland’s voter registration system, candidacy and election management system, online ballot delivery system and unofficial election night results website. AltPoint’s largest investor is Vladimir Potanin, who is reportedly close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Maryland officials have expressed fears that their state’s election system could be compromised through the Russia connection to ByteGrid. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) began an investigation of the firm hours after special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

“Even the appearance of the potential for bad actors to have any influence on our election infrastructure could undermine public trust in the integrity of our election system,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last month.

Annie Eissler, chief marketing officer for ByteGrid, told Maryland officials that the company’s investors “have no involvement or control in company operations,” according to The Baltimore Sun.

Cardin and Van Hollen asked Mnuchin to begin a CFIUS review of Potanin’s connection to ByteGrid and intervene if it poses a threat to U.S. national security or critical infrastructure.

The committee has blocked or effectively killed several planned foreign acquisitions of U.S. tech companies, primarily by Chinese firms, during President TrumpDonald John TrumpWatergate prosecutor says that Sondland testimony was 'tipping point' for Trump In private moment with Trump, Justice Kennedy pushed for Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination: book Obama: 'Everybody needs to chill out' about differences between 2020 candidates MORE’s first term. The panel has received bipartisan support from lawmakers concerned about the country’s ability to stave off espionage and intellectual property theft from U.S rivals.

Congress boosted CFIUS’s powers in a massive defense spending bill that Trump is expected to sign within days. The bill expands the scope of deals that CFIUS can inspect and block to investments touching critical infrastructure, which can include technology used to conduct elections.